Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take this opportunity to present my general views on this bill, and on what accountability with respect to loans means.
Of course, I cannot imagine that many people here would be opposed to tighter controls. Personally, I am very much in support of a strict control of election expenses, and of ensuring that there is no way to circumvent the Canada Elections Act, so as to manage—illegally—to spend more money during an election campaign.
As we know—and the numbers are often mentioned by many in our society, with good reason—elections cost a fortune. To whom? Because of our type of financing—and we should be pleased that it is primarily a public type of funding—elections cost money to taxpayers. They are the ones who must once again foot the bill. Indeed, a large number of candidates will be refunded for their election expenses. Of course, this costs a lot of money to militants, to people with or without party memberships, who decide to make an election contribution. It is important to keep this in mind, when we look at the spirit and the letter of legislation dealing directly or indirectly with the issue of financing.
Since 2004, when I ran in my first non-municipal election, a federal one, I thought—and I still do—that the goal was to limit money spent during an election or leadership campaign. I always thought that the last thing a candidate should do is blithely say that they need a certain amount of money or else they will not be able to get elected. There could be some stiff consequences for the people paying the bill at the end of the day.
In recent years, I have observed different parties and realized that the opposite is true: parties are departing from the spirit of the law to find ways to spend as much money as possible, and in some cases, more money than the law allows. That in itself is rather telling. At the federal level, the law was changed a few years ago to give parties access to rather significant funding: $1.75 per vote in the different ridings. This corresponds to direct funding for the parties by the government, thus by taxpayers, the public, the people paying taxes in various forms.
One way to spend more than what is authorized is obviously to take out loans for which the terms of repayment are unfair. These loans make it possible for individuals or businesses to make significant contributions to get a candidate or party elected, while ignoring the set limits.
In my opinion, election spending should be as closely monitored as possible, and any deviations should be punished as severely as possible. That is the objective of this bill, and for that it is laudable, although there are still some restrictions, such as the ones other colleagues have mentioned. I will not go into detail about what was discussed before my speech.
Nevertheless, there is an inequity that I would like to see changed one day. For our democratic process, referred to as an “election”, there are essentially two types of candidates: party candidates and independent candidates.
Of course I take full responsibility for the decision I made a little over a year ago. When I run again, as I have announced, it will be up to me to take charge of my election campaign according to the guidelines I will set for myself.
People should take the time to read the Canada Elections Act and talk to independent candidates, past or future. It is remarkable to see that because they do not run under a party banner, they are not treated the same under the Canada Elections Act as are candidates who run as part of a party. Whether or not a party is aiming to be in power is irrelevant.
As soon as it comes to a recognized party with associations, there are known financing methods. I will name a simple way to generate revenue known to the majority of people here in this House, as well as to those watching at home. I am talking about fundraising activities—collecting, one way or another, reasonable contributions of $20 or $50 that the people in our municipalities and towns are willing to give to a candidate or a party.
If independent candidates try to obtain funding, they must naturally give a receipt to record the transaction and keep detailed financial records. Yet, they cannot give tax receipts. They can only do that once the event has started, that is to say, once an election has been called. That seems truly absurd to me.
The member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel had this to say on Friday:
—it is disappointing that not everyone in this House realizes that politics should be open to every man and woman, to every citizen. It is not a matter of money, friends or anything like that. It takes someone [referring to candidates] who is able to express their ideas and defend them—
This clearly demonstrates that an inequity exists from the outset, since the elections act imposes such a limit and makes such an important distinction between independent candidates and candidates running for a particular party. In any case, I would like to tell future independent candidates to be prepared, because once they are elected to this House, the inequity will continue. Indeed, our parliamentary system is a party-based system, so one must have patience. We are given the opportunity to speak during a debate, as I am speaking now, but only after all other members have spoken and right before the debate ends. We can attend committee meetings and sit at the table, but we do not have the right to speak, unless another member shares a moment or two of his or her time with us. I would point out that this is highly unlikely, since time is always at a premium in committees.
So, once again, when it comes to elections, there is discrimination. The Canada Elections Act truly reserves different treatment for candidates who want to serve their constituents but not under a particular party.
As for loans, it would be very difficult for independent candidates to take out loans in good conscience, knowing full well that they will not be able to pay them back. Indeed, only small amounts of money could be borrowed, considering the short amount of time these people have for their funding, that is, probably 25, 27 or 30 days, at the most.
Anyone who has been through an election campaign knows what is involved in funding a campaign, not to mention running the campaign itself. Since there is a non-repayment provision, it would be entirely dishonest to take out a loan when the candidate knows full well that he or she will not be able to pay it back when the time comes, with no riding association involved that make up the shortfall by holding special events. Clearly, this is impossible for independent candidates.
I thought this was an important point to raise for those watching us. Indeed, very few people know this.
Like my other colleagues in the House, I regularly meet with people in my riding and we talk about this aspect of election campaigns. It should be said that many hundreds of people run in federal elections as independents. It is not unusual. It is unfair to them right off the top, therefore, because they will not have the same opportunity to raise money as people who run on behalf of a party.
We know very well, of course, that candidates can fund their own campaign. We are entitled, as individuals, to give to our own campaigns. I have always done so, and the amount can be topped up with an equal amount given as a candidate. Unless the figures have changed, it is about $2,200. That is already a good start for someone who wants to run as an independent. It will hardly surprise anyone to hear it, but I think these rules should be changed, along with some others.
My colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup said earlier that independents and party members run with all the pros and the cons that their status entails. He also said that candidates should be given equal opportunities. I agree with him on that. They should have equal opportunities, and this means the overall situation should be fair. That is not the case, though, as I just explained.
It is necessary, therefore, for the most basic funding avenues to be available to any citizen who wants to get involved in politics. I think we need fewer and fewer irritants because there is unfortunately a lot of cynicism at large in the general public. I say unfortunately because I think it is bad for democracy. I can understand it very well, though, because we regularly see moments in the House that are not exactly brimming over with respect and goodwill. Quite the contrary, there are times when the least pleasant aspects of human nature take over, on both sides of the aisle. We often see it at the end of a session when it is time for us to leave and go meet with our voters and take a few days of well deserved rest.
In summary, independent thinkers who do not want to have their say through a particular political party have a somewhat more limited ability to speak and act when the key moment arrives in democratic life, that is to say, elections. In other ways, though, many people clearly see an advantage in being independent, and I am one of them.
I chose to be an independent MP and believe me when I say that I accept full responsibility for that. I just wanted to point out the differences. I am not complaining. I just wanted to mention some of the inequities that exists. And I believe that this inequity, if not injustice, must be corrected because we have a democratic system. We are proud of our democratic system. Furthermore, we are envied throughout the world.
When we have to take measures to restore balance, we do so here on behalf of the people we represent. And I believe that such measures are indicated.